Belfast Telegraph

Chris Brunt: Northern Ireland's World Cup pain spurring us on to Euro 2012 glory

By Graham Luney

It was the night a dream died and it hurt.

Hope that had been rekindled disappeared in the Windsor Park darkness.

Nigel Worthington said he was “hurt and frustrated” and he could offer no excuses as he looked like a man who had been let down by his players.

Slovakia were celebrating a 2-0 win while Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying hopes were shattered.

A victory would have taken Worthington’s men top of Group Three with one game to play but instead it was a performance that waved farewell to the glamour stage in South Africa.

Harsh words were spoken after the game and those words should be ringing in the players’ ears as they kick off another qualifying campaign in Slovenia on Friday.

Players only get a handful of opportunities to reach a major tournament and represent their country on the big stage — and that’s only the privileged few.

West Brom winger Chris Brunt watched his World Cup dream go up in smoke as Slovakia went on to rattle Italy’s cage in the Rainbow Nation.

The Belfast man will allow his mind to recall that heartbreak as he sets out on another rollercoaster ride.

“It was a very hard defeat to take,” admitted Brunt. “And what made it worse was the fact that it happened at Windsor Park and we knew we could beat them.

“We don’t fear anyone at Windsor but it was a massive kick in the teeth, a damaging psychological blow. It was the manner of the defeat that left a sick feeling in the stomach and although we needed other teams to do us favours we let ourselves down.

“That was the end of the road for us and you say to yourself that you have to experience those lows to come back stronger and it makes you want things even more.

“The young players can learn from these experiences and hopefully we can get it right for these qualifiers. It’s a tough group with Italy, Serbia and Slovenia, three teams who competed at the World Cup but we believe we can do it.

“Yes, they are good teams but we have beaten the odds before and the disappointment of the World Cup qualifying campaign can drive us on to better days.”

Slovenia conquered Northern Ireland in Maribor and if Worthington’s men don’t resolve their travel sickness problem, they are destined to suffer more heartache.

“It’s important to start as well as we can,” added Brunt.

“We could have started a lot better in the last campaign and that’s why we ended up with nothing. We are capable of getting good results, the team earned a draw in Poland but it all comes down to the performance and preparation.

“We have gone close to qualifying for tournaments but not quite got across the line and we want to do that. Everyone believes we can go one step better if we work hard and play well.”

The reaction of the manager and players to that Slovakia defeat at least showed that the Northern Ireland squad care about ending the years of hurt.

But they will need to summon plenty of fighting spirit to make it to Poland and Ukraine.

A win over Slovenia would give them a fighting chance but expect the unexpected with Northern Ireland.

Worthington’s men could lose heavily to Slovenia and then beat Italy. They have never lost the element of surprise.

Belfast Telegraph

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